Monroe County today undermined fairness and the protection of its families when it filed a motion to appeal a decision that recognized valid same-sex marriages from outside the state. The county's misguided effort is in response to a New York Civil Liberties Union victory earlier this month in which, in a unanimous decision, a New York appellate court ruled that marriages of same-sex couples entered into outside of New York must be recognized in this state.

The case was the first appellate court decision in the state and the first known decision in the country to hold that a valid same-sex marriage must be recognized.

“It's a sad day when a government entity seeks to eliminate fairness and basic protections for families,” said Donna Lieberman, executive director of the NYCLU. “We are confident that this important victory for human rights will stand.”

The case, Martinez v. County of Monroe, was filed in 2005 in State Supreme Court on behalf of Patricia Martinez , an employee of Monroe Community College in Rochester, seeking health care benefits for her female partner whom she married in Canada in 2004.

This case raised the issue of whether the time honored, century-old “marriage recognition rule,” which requires New York State to recognize marriages that were solemnized outside the state, applies to same-sex marriages. The appellate court answered with a resounding yes, holding that the couple's valid Canadian marriage at issue in the case is entitled to recognition.

“If a marriage is valid in the state or country in which the marriage took place, New York law generally requires the recognition of that marriage,” said Arthur Eisenberg, the NYCLU's legal director. “This case involved a straightforward application of that principle.”

A friend of the court brief in this case filed by New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo in 2007 echoed these sentiments.

“In contrast to many other states, New York has no law barring the recognition of same-sex marriages validly performed in other jurisdictions,” the brief stated. “And far from being abhorrent to public policy, recognizing same-sex marriages validly performed elsewhere is the declared policy of the state, as reflected in the pronouncements of the Department of Civil Service, the Office of the Comptroller, and the Office of the Attorney General. That should be the end of the analysis.”

Martinez has been a word processing supervisor for Monroe Community College in Rochester since 1994. Her wife, Lisa Golden, was employed as an inventory control specialist and had her own benefits until she lost her benefits in the spring of 2004. The women have been in a long term, committed relationship since 2000. They own a home together, share financial responsibility for their expenses and each other's needs and have drawn up mutual wills.

“It is completely unconscionable that a county executive would waste taxpayer dollars to litigate an issue that would strip families of important protections,” said Gary Pudup, director of the NYCLU's Genessee Valley Chapter. “The Martinez case is about health care benefits. Why would a county official want a family to go without health insurance? This couple is validly married and they are entitled to recognition in New York.”

Jeff Wicks was cooperating attorney to the New York Civil Liberties Union Foundation.